Beauty is…seeing YOU

I wish people wouldn’t be scared of mental illness and it wouldn’t be such a touchy topic to discuss. I want girls and boys around the world to know that they are not alone whatsoever, and mental illness is just a bump in the road.

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Courtney is just like any other high school student. She gets excited about dances and cherishes time with friends. She also has her own unique set of challenges.

Courtney lives with anxiety and depression. She may struggle sometimes,  but she has learned that those things don’t define her.

I do have the power to overcome anxiety and depression, but there will be times when it comes out of nowhere and I have to deal with it.

I had the opportunity to chat with this beautiful young lady and it occurred to me: We could all learn a thing or two from Courtney.


You have had a bit of a rough road to travel these past couple of years. CanAnxiety you talk about some of the struggles you have had and where you are at now?

I have always struggled with insecurity in myself, my life, the ones around me, and the world. I used to be so uneasy with who I was. I didn’t know when a panic attack would arise, and I began to feel so out of control. I would starve myself because that’s the only control I felt like I had in my life. I would think about ending things because everyday seemed to be less and less “real.” But the depression, eating disorder, and anxiety was more real than anything. I actually became so comfortable with my mental illness, I didn’t want it to go. I would run away from things that made me feel loved or worthy because all I knew at that time was hurtful words about myself. Sometimes still today, I just get so lost in my own thoughts that I feel like I lose track of reality. I used to get so frustrated with who I was becoming and why the anxious thoughts would never go away. Still today, anxiety is my go-to…but it’s different. I hear what anxiety or depression has to say. I will admit that sometimes it does overcome me, and I start to panic and I feel like the world is collapsing. But nowadays, there is so many more good days than bad ones. I have been able to see anxiety as separate from myself, me and anxiety are no longer the same person. Anxiety is not a part of me whatsoever. Instead of seeing mental illness as the enemy, I see it as bittersweet sometimes. It can really hurt me and the ones around me, but I have become so much stronger in who I am as a person and what I want to do in my life. Without all of the struggling years, I don’t think I would be who I was made to be.

What gets you through the rough days?

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Last April, I got “saved” which is basically saying that I surrendered my life to The Lord. He has worked through and in me so much, exposing me to so many different seasons of life. I hold all of my hope and trust in Him on my bad days, with the peace that He is always at work in my life.

Also, without my mom I don’t think I would be the woman I am today. She has never given up on me, she provides me with the love that I sometimes cannot give to myself. She can see all of my flaws and insecurities, and still let me know that I mean so much to this world. She has shown me what I want to become some day, completely selfless and loving with the knowledge that I might not be loved in return. She has shown me what hope and love really is; she is the fighter, not me.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? Now what are your plans?

When I was little, I wanted to be a scientist. Now, I want to work with psychology.

What is the best song to sing in the shower?

The best song to sing in the shower would be “Brand New” by Ben Rector.

What is the best piece of advice you have heard? What was the worst?happiness (1)

The best advice that I have been given is “stop looking for happiness in the same place you lost it.” This piece of advice has changed my point of view on a lot of things. For some strange reason, I keep going back to the same thing or person hoping that this time around it will be different, but it never is. Looking for happiness in something that stole it from you will never suddenly change.

The worst advice I have been given is “just try to ignore it.” Whether “it” be anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder, telling someone to ignore it will only make the thoughts become bigger and stronger; you should never ignore what you’re afraid of.

It is Mental Health Awareness month. What is something you wish people understood about you and your journey?

I wish people wouldn’t be scared of mental illness and it wouldn’t be such a touchy topic to discuss. Today mental illness is more popular than ever. I want the world to be open to talking about it for what it is, a disorder, not some sickening disease. I want girls and boys around the world to know that they are not alone whatsoever, and mental illness is just a bump in the road. Personally, I wish people would understand that sometimes I can’t be like them. Some days I just can’t go up to a new person and say hello, and sometimes I just have to be quiet. I want people to understand what people suffering with mental illness go through, and understand that some days they just can’t do some things, and that’s okay. You might be laughing at one moment, then crying in the next, but you’re not a freak for that happening. I do have the power to overcome anxiety and depression, but there will be times when it comes out of nowhere and I have to deal with it. I want mental illness to no longer have the stigma of being weak or “walking on eggshells.” People need to treat someone with mental illness the same, but with the knowledge that they can’t do everything perfectly.

If you could have coffee with any woman, past or present, who would it be and what one question would you ask?

If I could have coffee with one woman, I would have it with a woman who I met in my IOP treatment. She was a lot older than me, and she did suffer from anxiety and depression, but she would always look at me and tell me that I have so much ahead of me. I saw her a few months after I graduated the program, and she just smiled at me because she was so proud of where I was. I didn’t get to know her that much, but I want to know what she’s been through and how she got through everything.

Who is your favorite Disney princess?

I’m not a huge Disney fan, so I asked my friend (who loves Disney stuff) which princess I would be most like. She said Merida from Brave, so I decided to look her up and see what she’s like. Merida is described as “impetuous girl who wants to take control of her own destiny.” It also says that she is “stubborn” and “does not fit the stereotypical princess role.” Just these three descriptions make me think of myself, because I sure am stubborn and I seem to feel like an outcast a lot of the time. I’ve noticed that people tend to glance over the ones that are “outcasts” or “different,” and I have been that one the whole time. But, it is honestly really cool that Disney would take the time to make a character similar to someone like me. Merida is a princess who doesn’t look like a typical princess, and I think she would be my favorite because she reminds me of myself.

What is your definition of beauty? Or, when do you feel most beautiful?

I think beauty is when someone can hold confidence in themselves and who they are as a person. Whenever I see beautiful girls, I look at them with so much jealousy and desire, and I end up feeling less of a person than them. Telling yourself that you are less than someone else is not going to get you anywhere except to a place of insecurity and self-hatred. Still today, I struggle with feeling beautiful in my own skin. I look at other girls and I start to become incredibly negative. Beauty doesn’t mean that you have to love what you see when you look in the mirror, but it is when you realize that you’re not what those girls look like, but you are something. Personally, the last time I felt truly beautiful was on a late night car ride with the music loud and my friends beside me. Although I was not looking in the mirror at the time, I felt alive and happy. I was so happy in that moment, and I never wanted it to end because everything around me was so perfect. Beauty isn’t always loving what you see in the mirror; it’s being able to look in the mirror and just see YOU.

Beauty is seeing you

 

 

 

#WCW: Lessons From Mom

Mother’s Day is behind us and we have all moved on from the cards, flowers, and brunches. But I still have a couple of things to say about my mom.

 

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My #WCW this week was easy. Mother’s Day is behind us and we have all moved on from the cards, flowers, and brunches. But I still have a couple of things to say about my mom.

I last saw my mom in March. Before that it had been two years since I had seen that smile. Maybe it’s because I am a bit older, maybe it is because I am a bit wiser, but with every conversation and with every visit, I am becoming more and more aware of the lessons my mom has taught me and is continuing to teach me.

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Here are a few things I learned from her on her last visit:

Take Care of Yourself. The very first stop we made after I picked her up from the airport was to Sally Beauty Supply. We got hair “masks” and face masks. She had brought 16 bottles of nail polish. We may have looked a fright with those masks on, but we had one heck of a time sitting around the table, putting each other’s masks on and meandering around YouTube looking for cute designs to put on our nails. We laughed at videos and marveled at some of the designs these ladies were doing. We took our time. We did things that served absolutely no one but ourselves. And that is ok.

Put your phone down. My mom works mostly from home, so being close to her phone and her laptop is a necessity. Nevertheless, there would be times her phone would ring and she would NOT run to answer it. That little device did not control her life. She was engaged with the people in front of her. The phone could wait.

Labels have only the power you give them. We hear that words are not supposed to hurt us. The truth, though, is that they do. If someone puts a label on you that you would not put on yourself, I do think it is healthy to examine it. Am I selfish? Am I rude? But as you examine it you cannot let it consume you. Be aware of your actions. Be conscious of how your actions affect others. But, ultimately, if the label does not describe the person you actually are– the person that people who love you see– let it go. Do not give the label (and the person doing the labeling) power over your life and your actions. Or, in other words:

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Graffiti in St Louis. “Make no harm. Take no shit.”

 

 

Feng Shui. The second day she was here, my mom re-did the girls’ room, had them get IMG_1195 (1)rid of 20-something items, and sketched out the different areas of our apartment according to Feung Shui. She made a list of what items and elements needed to be in each section of the house. She swept our front stoop and put coins under our doormat. We painted some rocks gold and cleared everything out from in front of the windows. We put the toilet lids down. We went and got a couple of Feung Shui books. We have a lot of work still to do, but it felt good to de-clutter a bit and make a little room for some good chi.

Get a bigger purse. We were getting ready to head out the door, when my oldest daughter asked me to put something of hers in my purse. She was holding her own purse when she asked, so I told her to put it in there. She responded that her purse wasn’t big enough, to which my mom and I both replied, “Get a bigger purse!” Sometimes we look to others to solve our problems, but if we take a step back the solution is actually quite simple. I wonder how many of the world’s problems could be solved if we only carried a slightly bigger purse…

Pause. Think. Then verbalize (The classic, “If you don’t have anything nice to say….”). We have all heard it a million times, and for good reason. This one was directed at my often-quarreling daughters. They bicker about the most ridiculous things. My first inclination is to remind them of the big picture–my own version of “Eat your Brussels sprouts because there are starving children in Africa.” My mom went a different route: Think Before You Speak. Is this worth fighting over? Are my words helping the situation? Can I find a solution, rather than just complain about the problem?

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Sunrise (but not over the Smokey Mountains)

Until you have seen the sun rise over the Great Smokey Mountains, you haven’t lived. My mom describes herself as a gypsy. And, having lived in multiple states and traveled to a ton of countries, she has walked the walk. As my husband and I are getting older, and our girls are getting less high maintenance, our wanderlust is beginning to grow. There are so many places we want to see, but so little time. We have set some goals (with the guidance of my mama) and we are checking off our list. The bottom line here: Get. Out.

 

Just because you have the right to say something, doesn’t mean you should. This one was directed at the girls as well. I have tried to be open with them, and have made a real effort to not answer their “But WHY..?!?!?!” with an equally annoying “Because I said so!!!” I haven’t demanded they blindly obey me. In fact, I try to encourage them to formulate their arguments and be able to articulate their point of view. I want them to be able to stand up for themselves. I am afraid of them being victimized (now or in the future) because they have learned that they must do what they are told to do by an authority figure, regardless of how they feel about it. The down side of this is that I get A LOT of backtalk. I mean A LOT. Hearing my kids argue with me was almost too much for my southern mama. She wants them to be able to stand up for themselves, too, but she showed me that they really don’t need to be standing up for themselves so often…against ME! Yes they have the right to express themselves in ways children of past generations never did. But when it comes to things like brushing their teeth and making their beds, just because they have the right to argue does not mean they should.

IMG_1196Vision boards. We talked about having goals for the year, and about writing those goals down. We created vision boards to help us stay focused. I love planning, so the act of writing down some very specific things I want to get done this year and then creating a vision board out of those goals was very cathartic for me. The girls got into it, too. Now, when they are bored, I ask them if they have been working towards anything on their vision boards!

 

My mom has been through a lot in her life. She has lost loves, survived abuse, and has raised me mostly on her own. Though there are countless lessons she has taught me, one of the biggest is to WORK. You want that job? Work. You want that vacation? Work. You want that house on the hill? Work. No one can look out for you all the time, so you have to take that responsibility on yourself. It sounds a little sad at first, to say that there will not always be someone there to take care of you. But if you think about it, it is really empowering. It means you are in control of your life, your future, your happiness. It means you get to decide what you will do today that serves you. It means you get to learn about you– what makes you feel fulfilled and satisfied and whole. It means the world is at your feet. But it also means:

you better work

Thanks, mom.

Beauty is…treasuring yourself

May is National Fitness Month, so all month we will be talking to women who inspire health and happiness #MotivationMonday

 Lauren was bullied growing up, sexually assaulted when she was 16, and fought an eating disorder through her high school and college years. Her road to self-acceptance has been long and hard, but now she is dedicated to helping others pave their own road.

Lauren is the entrepreneur behind the WhatIsPerfection blog, a self-improvement blog for “the imperfect girl everywhere.” Her mission is to help women find happiness, feel beautiful, and be confident in who they are. “We all deserve to be happy, and we all deserve to be the best version of us. And we are truly capable of getting there. Because Perfection is Impossible. Happiness isn’t.”

 

LaurenPerfection

Let’s start with some background. Where are you from? What was your favorite thing to do as a kid?

Hi! I am Lauren Eliz, of the What is Perfection Blog. I grew up in Long Island with my two sisters and larger than life Italian parents. Growing up was definitely an adventure for me. I lived on a block with a bunch of kids my age. Most of us, including me, went to Catholic School. Our classes were really small and I was basically with the same group of 50 kids from kindergarten through eighth grade. I was bullied a lot and didn’t really have a solid group of close friends. Then in high school I went to an even bigger Catholic school — and had over an hour long bus ride each day! I didn’t really like going to a private school. I hated wearing a uniform and learning about morality in a way that tried to make everyone be the same, act the same, and have little unique opinions about life. There weren’t many outlets for being creative or expressing your individuality. And being a creative person, that was really tough. I loved performing and spent much of my teenage free time performing in small theater shows around Long Island. And writing. I was always always writing: Music, Songs, Poems, Short stories – Anything and Everything. I guess my childhood is really what made creativity so important to me. It was what made me ME and allowed me to stand out in a world where everything was supposed to be plain and simple.

Take me through your typical day.

My Typical Day has changed over the last few months since starting the What is Perfecton blog. The five years before What is Perfection launched, I was a television producer for CBS News, and my typical day was chasing national stories, editing video all over the world and spending late nights getting important stories on television. But as exciting as that sounds, my typical day now is even more exciting! I get started working on blog projects from the minute I wake up till I head off to bed. I fill my days with photography shoots, brainstorming new ideas for stories and connecting with amazing women all over the world. I am still telling stories that matter, but with these stories, I somehow feel like I am making more of a difference in the world. My typical day is now spent being creative, expressive and allowing myself to be vulnerable. And I love that.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I’m pretty sure I always knew I wanted a creative life… and I am almost certain I always dreamed of being a writer. It was just in my soul from the moment I started living. Then when I got older and went to high school, I was set on being  Broadway star. I used to take classes in Manhattan every weekend to perfect my singing voice and auditioned for colleges across the country. But then once I got there, it didn’t feel right to me. I grew up, and realized I didn’t want to just recite someone else’s writing… I wanted to tell my own stories.

On your site, you talk about going from feeling like you were never good enough to embracing your imperfections. Tell me a little bit about that journey. Was it a gradual ‘awakening’? Or did you just wake up one day and say “OK, that’s enough of that!” Were/Are there any rituals or mantras or habits you have gotten into to help you get from where you were to where you are?

There was no specific Ah-ha moment for me…. no time in my life where the lightbulb turned on and I was like.. OH NO I AM LIVING WRONG! But looking back at my life I can definitely pinpoint the moments where my journey took serious turns off course to bring me where I am today. For those of you who don’t know my imperfection story, I can sum itLaurenEatingDisorder up for you: I was lost in insecurity my whole life. I was bullied growing up, and became obsessed with my body image. I suffered an eating disorder, sexual assault, a suicide attempt and a few other traumatizing things that really shaped my low self image. But my life has completely changed since then. I have found an amazing happiness and self confidence I never thought possible. I guess the big turning point for me was when I got divorced and lost my whole “perfect” life that I thought I finally had. That was really what pushed me over the edge and really forced me to do some serious soul searching. The three years after that I adapted some new habits that really turned my life around. I started reading self help books and tried to educate myself about all the emotional qualities I was missing in my life. I realized that no one else can shape my destiny but me. And if I didn’t start loving myself, I would never be confident enough to live a happy life being true to who I was and accepting myself for me. Journaling was really the ritual that allowed me to grow. I got really into it during my moments of self discovery. I’d ask myself things like, “What does the perfect life look like to me?” and “What is Happiness?” Writing all of those things out really forced me to look deeply at what I wanted, who I was, and where I wanted my life to take me. I also found means of meditation — like running, and coloring therapy. Those things really helped too.

Who is your favorite Power Ranger? Or Disney Princess? Or character?

I wasn’t ever really into power rangers.. And Disney princesses were cool and all, don’t get me wrong. But I was definitely a “different” kid. I was Mighty Mouse one year for Halloween.. and Beast from Beauty and the Beast another year. My favorite character though was always Simba. I guess I liked the idea of transforming your identity and finding happiness – even at a young age.

What was the best piece of advice you have received? What was the worst?Be true to yourself

The best piece of advice I ever got was to always be true to myself. No matter what. The worst piece of advice? Well… I’ve been told to  just trying a fit in, or to just let go of the past, or things like, “stop being so dramatic.” Those are bad things to tell anyone. You should never try to be someone for someone else… or just try to please other people. And that advice can make for some serious pretend living that is just incredibly unhealthy. I  am me. No one should ever try and change that.

You get into a packed elevator. Which way do you face?

If I ever got stuck in a elevator with a group of people, I’d probably be the one organizing some fun game to pass the time. So I would make everyone sit in a circle and share their deep dark secrets so we could all become best friends.

What is your ideal state? (In a perfect world, what are you doing? Where are you living? Who is surrounding you?) How will you get there?

This is my perfect ideal state. I am living my dream, I am surrounded by people who love me. Where I am living doesn’t matter. I am happy. And that is the only thing I need.

What is the best song to sing in the shower?

Anything Broadway!

What is your definition of beauty?

Beauty is something internal. It is not how you look or what you wear. To me, beautiful is something that happens when you connect with who you are and live true to yourself every single day. It shines through you. It radiates. You live life treasuring yourself and the people you love.. and that makes beauty.

Beauty is...Lauren Eliz

 

All images from WhatIsPerfection.com (edits my own)

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Beauty is…doing things for others

First grade teacher by day, pit bull rescuer and Challenger baseball organizer by night. My #WCW is one beautiful lady!

It is Teacher Appreciation Week, and I am excited to feature one of the most beautiful teachers I know! Not only does she dedicate her time to helping each of her students reach their full potential, she spends her “extra” time giving even more– from pit bull rescue to Challenger Baseball, this lady is spreading love and beauty all over the place!

Who you are: Maureen Smith

What you do: First Grade Teacher by profession, giving my time and money to great causes by choice!

Where you do it: Rockwood School District

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You are a first grade teacher by day, pit bull rescuer and Challenger challenger-baseballbaseball organizer by night. Tell me a bit about what led you to where are now. What challenges have you faced along the way?

St. Louis Challenger Baseball started on the 2nd date I had with my (now husband), Buck.  He talked about the league he started here in St. Louis and I was happy to come see what it was all about.  After the first summer of watching from the sidelines, I jumped right in to be a coach the following summer and have been for 12 years now.

Pit Bull Rescuing came a little later, after my husband and I were married and adopted our first rescued pit bull, Sally, in 2009.  We were hooked and can’t imagine our lives without her.  I work locally with Even Chance Pit Bull Rescue, Stray Rescue (walking dogs when I can), the HumaneEvenChance Society of the United States as an Animal Rescue Volunteer.  I have been deployed with them 5X to Florida and Tennessee to volunteer taking care of pit bulls who have been in dog fighting situations.

Challenges for all of these are TIME!  I always wish I had more of it.  Space in our home is getting to be a little more complex with Challenger and fostering puppies for Even Chance…there is always a lot of stuff.

It is National Teacher Appreciation Week. What do you want people to know about the real life of teachers?

We only want what is best for every single student in our classrooms and beyond. We are only one person and we try our best to meet every need for every child, every day.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I think I always wanted to perform.  I know in 6th grade I had a teacher who totally understood my passion, maybe because of his own love of the stage (he had a Bluegrass band). He was always asking me and my friends to “rehearse” our latest skit, and he let us “perform” in front of the class many times that year. We even had costumes for our performances.  My favorite was dressing like Pinky Tuscadero and the Pinkettes from Happy Days!  I was hooked!  I also babysat a lot and that probably molded my decision to “act” in front of kids.

You have “Drama Queen” signs all over your room. But you are probably the least “drama” filled person I have met. Am I missing something??

I guess now look at the answer to question #2.  I LOVE being on stage and performing, either in plays or musicals or choirs.  I have always been a ham, had the gift of gab (my mom is from Ireland) and find teaching the best place to perform improv on a daily basis.  One day I hope to be performing in a Broadway show…

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Talk about multi-tasking! 

 

What is the best piece of advice you have heard?

giveMy husband always says: never pass up a chance to give.  He is right.  We live our lives that way. That is definitely why we started Got Your Back Pack in Rockwood.

What was the worst? Do not major in musical theater in college, that is a waste! Choose Accounting.

If you could have coffee with any woman, past or present, who would it be and what one question would you ask?

Princess Diana. I would ask,  “Have you always had the passion and drive to help others or did someone influence you to make that your legacy as a member of the royal family?”

What is your definition of beauty? When do you feel the most beautiful?

Doing things for others…I wish outer beauty was not so much of our daily lives, but sadly it is.  I feel the most beautiful when I sing and hit the right harmony and notes.

Beauty is...doing things for others

#WCW: The Ladies of Eureka High School Robotics Team

When I was in high school I was worrying about who to go to Prom with and if I would ever get my toe-touch (I never did).
These ladies are building. frickin. robots.

 When I was in high school I was worrying about who to go to Prom with and if I would ever get my toe-touch (I never did).

These ladies are building. frickin. robots.

Who you are: Catherine Colletti and Joey Schmaltz

What you do: members of the FTC Robotics team, The Quarks 3591

Where you do it: Eureka High School

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What drew you to robotics? What do you love about it and what are the biggest challenges?

Catherine: I thought robotics would be a lot of fun and I would get a chance to learn a lot about engineering, plus I have been doing robotics of some sort since I was in 4th grade and I wanted to continue in high school. I love it because I get to apply what I learn in class about engineering to a real purpose. It is super exciting and there are so many different things we can do when we design our robot. The biggest challenge would be when the robot or the programming or the wiring is not working the way it is supposed to. Also, since this is a team effort, we have to make sure we work together well and consider the ideas of all team members.

Joey: My entire family is made up of engineers and I felt like joining something that would give me an opportunity to be around things where the main focus is engineering would just bring me closer to my family as well as to some of my friends that were already on the team when I joined. I love the team aspect of robotics, we (all 13 of us) act like a BIG family and we may have some “sibling” bickering and not getting along just like a real family does but we all love each other at the end of the day. The biggest challenge was probably the communication within the team. The team has one large group chat with everyone plus some in it and that can get out of hand sometimes and then there is also the face to face communication that didn’t always happen or if it did hardly anyone was participating in the discussion.

What accomplishment (within robotics or otherwise) are you most proud of?

Catherine: The Quarks received the Think Award, the award for the top engineering notebook, at the Missouri State Competition this year. This then qualified us to compete at the North Super Regionals, which was a really cool opportunity.

Joey: I was really proud of our team making it to super regionals, especially since this was my first year in robotics it was just awesome! Personal wise, I had brain surgery in 2013 so that’s kinda cool that I’m better now.

What are your plans for the future?

Catherine: First, I want to finish high school. 🙂 After that, I am looking to go to college for engineering, most likely Materials Engineering.

Joey: 100% honest here- I’ve no idea, but I’ve got a while to figure that one out

If you could have coffee with any woman, historical or living, who would it be and why?marie-curie-850

Catherine: I would talk to Marie Curie because I love chemistry and would be interested in her discoveries of two elements.

 

the-c3b4earlier-versionc3b5-as-the-portr-ait-of-lisa-del-giocondo_1021_html_m12df3fddJoey: The inspiration for the Mona Lisa, so that I could ask her what her name is and who does her eyebrows so that I can arrest them for theft

Fun question: M&Ms– plain or peanut? (or pretzel, or crispy, or peanut butter…)

Catherine: The original M&Ms, or peanut butter. Both are amazing.

Joey: Pretzel, is there even any other kind?

What is the best song to sing to in the shower or when you are alone in the car?

Catherine: I don’t really have a favorite. It’s generally whatever song I have stuck in my head at the moment or is on the radio.

Joey: I’m really bad at remembering lyrics to usually I just hum the tune of what ever song is stuck in my head and it mixed with 4 other songs and until you can no longer tell what genre it was even from to begin with

What was the best piece of advice you have received? What was the worst?

Catherine: The best two pieces of advice I have received are to (1) not worry about other people and do what makes you happy, and (2) aim high because even if you don’t do what you aim to, you’ll still end up doing something great. The worst piece of advice I have received is “just do what everyone else is doing”

Joey: The best was only you can take away your happiness, and the worst was when my uncle told me that doing a belly flop off a diving board wouldn’t hurt at all

What books or TV shows do you think everyone needs to read/watch, like, right now?

lord-of-the-rings-booksCatherine: The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a must-read.

Joey: It depends on what you like, but if you really wanted a recommendation list, I have one about a mile long (which is not as long as my to-read list)

What is your definition of beauty? When/where do you feel most beautiful?

Catherine: A person who is beautiful is someone who has a presence that just seems to glow because you can tell that they are happy and confident and they seem to spread that happiness wherever they go. I feel the most beautiful when I am around my family or friends doing something I enjoy.

Beauty is...glowing (1)

Joey: Beauty is something that someone achieves when they are completely immersed in whatever they enjoy doing the most or when they feel the most loved or confident. I feel beautiful when I’m reading or drawing, or surrounded by people that love me for who I am, not who they want me to be, like my family and friends.

Beauty is...immersion

Beauty is…strength and confidence

She holds four degrees, including a Doctorate in Engineering and a Masters in Business.

DrHowardAntarctica
(Image from EngineerGirl.org)

 She has designed rovers for Mars exploration and robots destined to help study climate change in Antarctica.  

She has contributed to seven books and published over two hundred academic papers.

She has been the recipient of numerous awards including the 2001 Lew Allen Award for Excellence in Research from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Early Career Award in Robotics and Automation in 2005, the National Society of Black Engineers Janice Lampkin Educator Award in 2009, and the Georgia Tech Residential Life Cornerstone Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Community in 2013.

She is also a wife, a mama, and downright beautiful.

DrHoward
Dr. Ayanna Howard (image from gatech.edu)

 

Who you are: Dr. Ayanna Howard

What you do: Robotics Engineer, Professor, Entrepreneur

Where you do it: Georgia Institute of Technology, Zyrobotics

Ienhanced-buzz-9274-1365708848-3 read that you were inspired to pursue a career in science after watching the TV show The Bionic Woman. What was it about the show/character that clicked with you? Before watching the show, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a young girl, I was always into sci-fi – anything with robots, space, super heroes – if it included any imaginary futuristic technology or world, I was hooked. The Bionic Woman attracted me, in particular, because it engaged me into thinking about my role in society. Here was this amazingly intelligent, beautiful, super hero that, not only highlighted the strengths of a woman, first and foremost, but had the primary purpose of saving the world. And then I knew that what I wanted to do was pursue a career that allowed me to build the Bionic Woman. Before that, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was always good at math and science, but didn’t really know what kind of career I wanted.

What were some of the biggest challenges you have faced on your professional journey? How were you able to move through them?

When I was younger, the biggest challenge was in learning how to not take things personally and push forward, despite any implicit biases expressed by others. Basically, the biggest challenge was dealing with the Imposter Syndrome, especially as, many times, I was the only female or minority present in a given situation. I once heard someone say “Fake it until you make it.” I realized no one feels confident 100% of the time, so you just press on until you do.

You are a role model for kiddos who are interested in robotics and engineering. Who were some of your role models growing up or as you went through university?

I float through role models – basically, I find individuals who are doing what I’d like to do and figure out how they got there and the lessons they have learned through that process. I also like to surround myself with ‘advisors’ – i.e. individuals whom I can seek out when I need advice. In essence, they function informally, at various instances of time, as my mentors, colleagues, confidants.  

Your list of awards and publications is staggering (your CV is 17 pages long!!). You have worked on building rovers for Mars, artificial limbs for kids, and robots that can explore the Arctic to help scientists study climate change– what are you most proud of?

I’m usually the most proud on the things I’m working on now.  Right now, I’m most proud of releasing the Zumo Learning System, which is an accessible electronic learning system for STEM. It brings together technology licensed from my lab at Georgia Tech, aspects of machine intelligence, K-12 math education, and addressing the needs of children with differing abilities.

What is your favorite ice cream flavor?dsc_0884-copy-584x386  

Rocky Road

What is the best song to sing to in the shower or when you are alone in the car?

Don’t actually have one. When I’m listening to music – it’s usually Zumba music (since I teach a weekly Zumba class and the rule of thumb is – know your music).

What was the best piece of advice you have received? What was the worst?

The best piece of advice has been when someone asks a question that makes me think (causing me to give myself advice or seek advice to answer the question) – Why haven’t you written a book? Have you ever thought about starting your own company? Have you ever thought about an academic career?  

The worst piece of advice – I’m actually not sure since I tend to push negativism out of my life.

You have been interviewed and featured by just about everyone, from TIME magazine to PBS. Is there anything you wish they would ask, but they never do?

I wish they would ask: “You’ve done a lot and seem to be quite busy. How do you balance?”

My answer would be: My family – they keep me sane and grounded. They help me to say NO when it’s time that I should.

What is your definition of beauty? Or, when/where do you feel most beautiful?

Definition of beauty – strong inside, exuding confidence outside. Honestly, I feel the most beautiful when I’m on stage speaking to a general audience. Each time – it challenges me to rise above self – becoming stronger inside and more confident outside.

Dr Howard definition

 


Learn more about Dr Howard here:

The History Makers

EngineerGirl.org

GeorgiaTech.edu

 

 

Beauty is…resilience

I feel the most beautiful when I watch myself in the mirror during physical therapy. I feel so much pride when I see myself mastering things I never thought I would be able to do again after my amputation like standing or walking. I see resilience in the mirror and I think resilience is beautiful.

 Being a mom is not easy.

Being a mom before you enter college is hard.

Being a mom and going to college is harder still.

Being a mom, going to college, spending the better part of a year in the hospital fighting Ewing’s Sarcoma, and losing your leg as a result? Impossible.

But this mama is doing it.

Irene

 

Who you are: Irene Blum

 

What you do: Mom, college student, childhood cancer and limb loss awareness advocate.

 

Where you do it: Stamford, CT

 

Tell us your story.Motivated

I was born and raised in Stamford, CT. I used to play softball, volunteer at my local hospital, and was very social. I got pregnant at 16 years old. I had my son Jason during my senior year in high school. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I wanted to be a good role model so I became very motivated. I worked in social services helping at-risk youth and went on to study at the University of Connecticut. When I was 20 years old I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of pediatric bone cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. I had to stop working and going to school because my treatment was a year of high-dose chemotherapy and countless surgeries. I had many complications along the way, the most significant one resulted in an above-the-knee amputation. I have been in remission for 10 months now and am very blessed to be alive.

You have had more than your fair share of challenges and trials. What do you consider your biggest challenge? What got you through it?  

Jason (1)My biggest challenge in life was my battle against cancer. The chemotherapy drugs I was given were so toxic that I became debilitatingly sick. I spent nearly 10 out of 12 months inpatient. I was working so hard to just stay alive that I couldn’t be the amazing mom that I wanted to be to Jason. I went from being his primary caregiver to being lucky if I could see him during weekend visits at the hospital.

Treatment became so brutal that the folks at the hospital called me “Murphy’s Law Girl” because everything that could go wrong, did. I wanted to quit so bad and just go home to be with my son. My doctors talked me out of quitting because they would remind me that if I did, the time spent with Jason would be short because Ewing’s Sarcoma is aggressive and would most certainly return with a vengeance if I did not finish my protocol. If I finished treatment, I could return home and live a fulfilling life with my son with little chance of relapse.

If Jason weren’t here, I would have quit treatment because it was torturous. I wouldn’t be here answering this interview if my son wasn’t born… Fun fact: The name Jason means “the healer.” I definitely feel like he popped into my life early and unexpectedly for a reason. Another reason why I am lucky to have him is because my cancer treatment ruined my reproductive system. I am technically infertile. I would love to have children in the future but will probably have to adopt.

mayim-bialik-big-bang-theory-ftr1
Image from Parade.com

 If you could have coffee with any woman, historical or living, who would it be and why?

Mayim Bialik because she’s brilliant, progressive, outspoken, and has a great sense of humor.

 

mulan
Image from filmandtvnow.com

 Who is your favorite Disney Princess?

Mulan because she was one tough chick. Instead of being a damsel in distress, she protected her disabled father from going to war and saved her entire country.

 

What is the best song to sing to in the shower or when you are alone in the car?

“Fight Song” by Rachel Platten

What was the best piece of advice you have received? What was the worst?

“You can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first,” was the best piece of advice I have ever received. The worst would probably be, “don’t do chemo, just pray and eat papayas.”

Good advice, bad advice
Good advice vs bad advice

What books or TV shows do you think everyone needs to read/watch, like, right now?

Grey’s Anatomy is my all-time favorite show. Grey’s is the best part of every Thursday. Jodi Picoult is my favorite author and after going through treatment, I re-read “My Sister’s Keeper” with a newfound appreciation for it and was moved to tears multiple times throughout the book.

What is your definition of beauty? Or, when do you feel most beautiful?

Going through treatment taught me to find beauty in absolutely everything. I define Rainy daybeauty as anything or anyone that provokes positive emotions when you look at it/them. Before cancer, I would look at a rainy day and think “jeez, what an ugly day.” It was a rainy day in March when I got discharged from the hospital after being inpatient for nearly 5 months. I cried tears of joy as I felt raindrops on my bald head. A year later, I still look at rain and remind myself how much joy rain brought me. I can look at a rainy day today and think, “what a beautiful day.”

I feel the most beautiful when I watch myself in the mirror during physical therapy. I feel so much pride when I see myself mastering things I never thought I would be able to do again after my amputation like standing or walking. I see resilience in the mirror and I think resilience is beautiful.

Beauty is...resilience

Supporting the Autism community, today and everyday

Bethany works with folks and families effected by autism every day. Here is what you need to know about Autism, and how you can support the Autism community.

Bethany Peralta spends her days serving folks and families who are affected by autism, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental disorders. She is also a wife, a mama, and a Mexican food enthusiast.

IMG_1757
Bethany with her hubby and little one

 

Who you are: Bethany Peralta, Intake Coordinator at The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders

What you do: The last 7 months I have had the privilege and responsibility of guiding families through the process of seeking a diagnostic evaluation, enrolling in therapy services, and providing help and hope to individuals and families affected by autism, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental disorders, through resources, research opportunities, and parent education and trainings. I have also been very involved in community outreach through our partnerships and affiliate programs in the community.

Where you do it: The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, in Santa Ana, CA.

Beth at work
Bethany (far left) at The Center

 

Let’s start at the beginning. What drew you to work with folks on the spectrum? What keeps you coming back to work everyday?

I returned to school for a second time in my mid-twenties after working in early childhood education for over 10 years. My second time in college I sought training to become a Certified Medical Assistant. I knew once I finished my program that I wanted to stay working in pediatrics to some capacity, but my work opportunities lead me initially into the world of physical therapy. After 5 years working as an Office Manager, I left the small PT company and applied to positions through UCI (University California Irvine). An old friend of mine was working at UCI in the School of Medicine and pointed me in the direction of For OC Kids. Shortly before I came on board with The Center, the For OC Kids organization had received a catalytic grant from the Thompson Family Foundation that propelled our small specialty clinic into the leader in Autism assessments, diagnostics, care coordination, and family support that we are today. When I was first hired at The Center, I was a receptionist/scheduler. Within my first year was promoted to become our Therapy Service Coordinator guiding families through insurance coverage benefits and limitations and helping them get enrolled or connected with therapy services such as Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and ABA (behavior therapy). In August of last year the need for a full time Intake Coordinator was brought to my attention and I began working with families contacting our office with case management support. I had not intended to take over New Patient Intake, but knowing that I can provide information and support to parents who are seeking help for their child makes my job so fulfilling and meaningful. It can be a very stressful and emotional role, but knowing that the information I have can make a direct impact on their family life makes it all worth the struggle.

Whales.jpg

When we say “autism” what are we really talking about– what IS autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong impairment most associated with communication and social behavior. ASD deficits can be wide ranging, including nonverbal and self aggressive to high functioning with social interaction limitations, and everyone in between. Many individuals affected by Autism may also have sleep issues or gastrointestinal problems. Research is ongoing to better understand these connections and how they impact individuals.  In May of 2013, the DSM-5 was released. It is the current standard reference tool healthcare providers use to diagnosis mental and behavioral health disorders. Previously under the DSM-IV, a patient could have been given a diagnosis of Autism, Asperger’s, Pervasive Development Disorder-not otherwise specified. Now under the DSM-5, it is an all encompassing umbrella that addresses the wide deficits and  impairments of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

What are some misconceptions about autism that still linger today?

The biggest misconception I hear from people is that ASD means their child, if diagnosed, will become nonverbal, stop making eye contact, will start rocking or pacing, etc. And although that may be true for some individuals, it is not true for everyone. I like to think of a diagnosis of Autism as a tool to help guide and direct patients into the therapies that will really help them excel and overcome the challenges that they are facing.

What are some things people can do for Autism Awareness month?

Autism Speaks has several great ideas for supporting and participating in Autism Awareness month:

  • The 8th annual World Autism Awareness Day is Saturday, April 2, 2016. Wear your favorite blue clothing to show support and use it as a fundraising opportunity. For example: organizations can allow employees to wear jeans or other casual wear to work and to participate donate any set dollar amount (say $5-10 per person to participate). Donate those funds to local Autism related recreation or wellness programs or to Autism Speaks directly through their #LIUB campaign (raising funds to continue research in the field of Autism.)
  • Light it up blue! Is the annual event to light up your home or office building in support of Autism. Go to www.autismspeaks.org/liub  to register your home or business. (You can also pledge to wear blue on April 2nd from this page.)
  • Finally, people can register to create/join a team or volunteer to help assist at their local Autism Speaks Walk. These walks are vital for gathering funds to continue much needed research and provide awareness for this complex disorder.

AS Walk

Outside of Autism Speaks support, I encourage families to look into their local Universities and other community programs that offer many events throughout the entire month. For example:

  • our Center is having an Ask The Experts” panel where several clinicians will be available for questions and answers with our Education and Training Coordinator, Anna Laakman, moderating the evening.
  • Chapman University is hosting their annual Autism Social. This event is geared towards teens 16 years and up (through adult). Its a coordinated, cost-free event with music, dancing, art, games, food, and caregiver resources. There is also a designated quiet area, which is so necessary for large scale events like this. They really have thought of everything!!
  • OC Autism and Fullerton Cares Autism Coalition also have their annual events which include no-cost or low cost admission with family friendly entertainment and activities.

Train + Bethany.jpg

Time for some fun questions: Pepsi or Coke?

I think I would pick Pepsi. But really, as long as my cup has enough ice, I am happy to drink anything!

What is the best song to sing to in the shower or when you are alone in the car?

My current guilty pleasure includes Justin Beiber’s Love Yourself or anything from Fleetwood Mac.

What was the best piece of advice you have received?

I worked with an amazing Pediatric Psychologist when I first started in this field. She always quoted Maya Angelou when we hit a rough spot in our NCS research project: “ I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That still is ever so true in the work that I do. Even if I don’t have the answer, I can take the time to listen and be patient and polite to a parent. And that really does make all the difference.

What was the worst?

Before I took over my current position, there was not an established resource/referral list for community clinicians. The worst advice I had prior to generating a frequently used and sought after list was giving parents pretty hopeless resources. I’m very proud of how far we have come and the service that I can provide to families.

What is your definition of beauty? Or, when/where do you feel most beautiful?

My definition of beauty is to be yourself. Be confident in what you know and be proud of who you are. I feel the most beautiful when I stand up for myself and I accept opportunity for change. Looks can be fleeting, so don’t limit your self worth to that alone. Have a kind heart and a sharp mind. They’ll last longer anyway.

Bethany (1)

What do you want people KNOW after reading about what you do?

Autism is not a death sentence. Early assessment and interventions do help to produce stronger personal advancements. But for those with teenagers or young adults, don’t give up. Know that a variety of clinicians, such as Neurologist, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, or a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician, can all help. If your pediatrician or family doctor is comfortable making the diagnosis, they are also qualified to do so. And they can certainly make the necessary referrals for treatment services. If you have any specific questions or want to learn more about Autism, you can visit our website at: http://www.thecenter4autism.org/

Look into programs like Regional Center for low cost or no-cost screenings or contact your local school district for an education assessment as a place to start. There are a lot of resources available to families, and sometimes it’s as simple as starting with your pediatrician.

Beauty is…confidence

Beauty comes from within. It shines through when you are truly happy with who you are, confident and feeling good in your skin. This also reflects on the way you treat others and the way you see the world around you.

What is beauty? I asked some experts! 

Check out my conversation with the lovely Melissa and Deynece of Deux Bella ❤️

Deux-Bella.jpg345
Melissa + Deynece = Deux Bella

Let’s start with a little background: I understand you ladies are now living miles apart, but stay in touch via your blog, Deux Bella. How did you meet? How long have you been friends?

We met when we were both managing for different cosmetic lines at Nordstroms. It was basically love at first sight! We have been friends for 10 years- the funnest, craziest 10 years of our 20’s (and late teens for Dey). We have had the best times and the hard times together. Weddings, babies, moves, careers advancements, illness, deaths, breakups. All of it.

 What is the silliest thing you have done together?

Hmmm honestly there’s a lot to choose from- probably grocery cart races down the very steep hill from our state capital at ungodly hours. This wasn’t some random crazy night either, it happened pretty regularly and became kind of an epic event.

What are your “day jobs”? BobbyBrownLipstick

Deynece is an education and artistry coordinator for Bobbi Brown cosmetics, and an A- Team national featured artist.

Melissa is a semi-retired makeup artist, esthetician and psychotherapist, but mostly a momma right now.

What is the biggest challenge you have experienced in your professional life?

Melissa: I broke my hand when I was in medical school and had to really re-evaluate what my priorities were and the path I was taking and why.

Deynece: Learning to manage +50 employees all of different ages when I was only 22.

What is the best song to sing to in the shower?

Melissa: Punching In A Dream by The Naked and Famous or anything Britney Spears or Taylor Swift 🙂

Deynece: Don’t Stop Believe’n by Journey

What is the best piece of advice you have heard? What was the worst?

ADVICE from Melissa (1)Melissa:

Best: Never cook bacon naked. Ha But seriously, a bunch of old grandmas told me you can’t spoil a baby so I just snuggled and held my baby so much and I am so glad I did!

Worst: Don’t go to bed mad. This is the worst advice. People prolong fights and a lot of things could be avoided by stepping away and taking a break, eating and getting some sleep.

 

Deynece:advice from Deynece

Best: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

Worst: When you’re not first you’re last.

 

 

How do you spend your down time? Favorite books, shows, movies?

Melissa: What down time? Ha jk. Binge watching Netflix late at night while I work. I love Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, House of Cards, Law & Order SVU even though it’s not the same without Stabler.

Deynece: Netflix and chill- while working on a  million other things for the blog.

If you could have coffee with any woman, past or present, who would it be?

Melissa: Queen Hatsheput of ancient Egypt or Queen Raina of Jordan (current) she is the epitome of class and beauty and strength. She has done so much for women and children not only in the Middle East but on a global level- and she’s stunningly beautiful and classy. I would ask her how she does it all.

Deynece: My grandma because I didn’t really get to say goodbye. She went in for a routine clogged artery and then had complications and passed away during the surgery.

Who is your favorite Disney Princess? Why?

Both of us said Belle! Because she is intelligent, strong, kind and beautiful!

You are experts on beauty– what is your definition of beauty?

Short answer- it comes from within. It shines through when you are truly happy with who you are, confident and feeling good in your skin. This also reflects on the way you treat others and the way you see the world around you.  Long answer- we’ve been answering in our Exploring Beauty series!

Beauty shines

 


 

Want more from Melissa and Deynece?

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Beauty is…everywhere.

I like to think my sense of the beautiful only grows as I come to recognize more forms of caring and resilience and to appreciate a wider range of shapes and sizes and colors and textures. On my best days, I see it everywhere, and the more I see it, the more space it takes up, which is wonderful.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, I chatted with Dr Penny Weiss, the Director of Women’s Studies at St Louis University.


 

Can you give me just a little bit of background. Where are you from? Where did you go to school? What brought you to St Louis?

I am a native of Miami, Florida and a graduate of the University of South Florida. I went toslu_vert_blue university-of-south-florida-logograd school in the Midwest and have since spent most of my adult life here. I came to STL in 2008 because I had the chance to move from a position in a political science department to one in a women’s studies program, and from a rural setting outside a small city to the big city. It was a phenomenal switch!

 

What drew you to Women’s Studies? Was there one turning point or “ah ha!” moment?

I came of age when WS programs were starting and the women’s movement was hitting another peak. What drew me? Everything: the questions, the people, the politics, the passion, the purpose, the activism, the festivals. Women’s Studies, like feminism itself, made (and continues to make) sense of my life.

What is a common misconception you encounter when you are discussing feminism?

I think, unfortunately, that people know more about what anti-feminists say feminism is than what feminists say. Among the most persistent misconceptions: reproductive justice only means a right to abortion; most religions are incompatible with feminism; feminism means whatever any individual chooses to say it means (and feminism means you can’t criticize any choice anyone makes); and then there are the oldies but goodies…feminists hate men, are all lesbians, are selfish, are (too) aggressive and demanding, are unreasonable in their demands, etc.

It’s Women’s History Month; who are some women from history you have loved learning about?

Emma Goldman, Anna Julia Cooper, Christine de Pizan, Mary Astell, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Jane Addams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and many more. Just as important, I loved learning about the work women together did to bring about change, in organizations from anti-slavery associations and women’s labor groups to peace leagues and suffrage associations. And all that work is still being carried on around the world!

 

I recently came across this image and the idea it reflects online:

What are your thoughts on this? Can we fairly say that general history courses are to men what women’s studies courses are to women?

The cartoon is still all-too-true. We know that we still do not know about women’s lives to the extent we know about men’s. It is the accomplishments of men (especially in politics and economics, narrowly defined) that have been deemed historically important, the deeds of men (especially in war, industry, and government) that have determined the ways we distinguish one historical period from another (such as pre-Civil War or post-industrial), and the arenas in which men acted (military, legal, etc.) that important things worth recording were said to happen. This leaves out three things: the impact of all of these deeds and events on various groups of women, the stories of women’s lives both within these boundaries (at work, in political office) and beyond them (in the community, participating in street riots, as victims of gender-based violence, as caregivers, raising crops and children, as activists, etc.), and how we might reconceive historical eras (and philosophical schools of thought, etc.) once we read women into them. I’d say that “general history courses are to men what women’s history courses are to women,” rather than “what women’s studies courses are to women,” because we teach much more than women’s history (including the study of masculinity).

Who are some women in your life that have inspired you?

My two daughters amaze me. My colleagues and students in Women’s and Gender Studies amaze me. The women in my neighborhood who keep on keeping on amaze me.

What is your definition of beauty?

That it evolves (I’m not attracted to the same things or people I was 20 years ago, nor do I aspire to the same ideals I did then) and mostly involves appreciation. I like to think my sense of the beautiful only grows as I come to recognize more forms of caring and resilience and to appreciate a wider range of shapes and sizes and colors and textures. On my best days, I see it everywhere, and the more I see it, the more space it takes up, which is wonderful.

Beauty is everywhere (1)